Rae Lewis-Thornton On Living Well With HIV: The Earlier You Start Treatment The Better

Rae Lewis ThorntonI’ve been living with HIV for 34 years, however, I didn’t learn of my status until almost three and half years later. For sure I survived the most difficult period of the AIDS pandemic. We have gone from no medication, when I was diagnosed the Spring of 1987, to forty-three medications in five different classes, based on how they work against HIV. Yet, HIV is still very much a problem, not only in the United States but abroad. Specifically in the U. S., people living with HIV are still plagued with stigma, which affects people getting tested and diagnosed so they can begin treatment, but also, the stigma brings so much shame some end treatment, for fear that someone may learn of their status.

As we observe World AIDS  Day today, it’s crazy to think 36 years into this pandemic we are still stuck on some of the same issues that we had in 1981 after the first cases were recored by the Centers for Disease Control, and even in 1994, 13 years after I appeared on the cover of Essence magazine. Discrimination is still rampant. There is this unwillingness to accept medical advancements around HIV.

WATCH: Rae Lewis-Thornton: Diva Living With AIDS

People ask me all the time, is that really true?  People say, “Magic Johnson must have a magic pill or something.” There’s this big contradiction in how people marvel over the fact that  Magic has lived and I lived in the face of the predication that was announced on the cover of Essence, “Young, Educated and Dying From AIDS.” This was the gospel as we understand the destruction of AIDS. For sure I should have died from AIDS-related complications somewhere around 1997.

Today though, my story is very different from the stories of others diagnosed with HIV. I mean, with over 40 HIV medications, ones virus can be suppressed within six months of treatment. Yet, for as much as I differ, there are some similarities. I still deal with the stigma, but equally important, I have to mange my health right down to the last pill I take at the end of the day as does every single person living with HIV.

In part, managing my HIV well has been my secret to my longevity.  Once years ago, a reporter asked…